Inuvialuit Artist Links Toronto’s Gardiner Highway to Arctic Landscape

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Driving on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, with its traffic jams and seemingly endless construction, isn’t exactly an uplifting experience.

But right now, beneath the elevated highway and the constant flow of cars and trucks, Inuvialuit artist Maureen Gruben has created a space where people move with joy.

This is the name and motivation for Gruben’s first major public installation, and she brings her experience of modern Inuvialuit life to a skating rink on The Bentway – a public space that winds around the concrete supports of the Gardiner.

“It’s the idea of ​​being on the land and the joy it brings, because sledding is such an integral part of Inuit life and has always been for generations,” she said. to Lawrence Nayally, the host of the CBC show. Trails To finish.

Move with joy is developing an outdoor art installation created by Gruben in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, in 2019, using 14 borrowed traditional sleds. The handcrafted wooden sleds have been used and repaired for many years by local families.

Maureen Gruben’s original project Moving with Joy. A new version of the original project includes video installations and is presented at the Bentway, a public space and skating rink in Toronto. (Courtesy of Kyra Kordoski)

“I put them on their feet like people and they all stand together, so they represent the community,” she said.

“That’s what I wanted to bring…what joy you feel when you move around the court and go to your favorite places.”

The big city version of the project uses large, stylized fabrications that echo Gruben’s original sleds.

Moving with Joy will be staying at the Bentway Skate Trail in Toronto until February 21. (Shane Parent/The Bentway)

They feature videos and images of Gruben’s family life in Tuktoyaktuk – slices of Inuvialuit culture and daily life – celebrating how people meet and visit when on dry land to fish or hunt.

“We met my cousin Sheila, who had just plucked a goose and she had a beautiful bright red handbag next to her, sitting in a chair with her gun and fishing at the same time,” she said. .

“You know, those kind of images like feathers caught in the bush moving in the wind? Just little clips of the arctic environment.”

Another part of the installation is called Annivik and involves photos Gruben took at the Tuktoyaktuk landfill, combined with poetry.

Maureen Gruben’s poetry and photography exhibited as part of her installation in Toronto. Annivik features images taken by Gruben at the Tuktoyaktok burial site and poetry based on elder recordings, contrasting the difference between modern and traditional Inuvialuit life. (Shane Parent/The Bentway)

The poems were based on recorded stories of Inuvialuit elders, given to her by former Premier of the Northwest Territories, Nellie Cournoyea.

“I kind of put together verses more like poetry and layered them on the image just to show the difference between our life today and our contemporary world and how clean and clean our ancestors were. ingenious,” she said.

Kyra Kordoski is an art writer who works with Gruben and comes to Tuktoyaktuk regularly.

She says Move with joy brings together two contrasting environments – the concrete world of the city, with the landscape around the original community of Gruben.

“You have the vehicles moving overhead on the Gardiner, you have the video of the sleds crossing the dirt with the skaters. There’s movement, there’s joy,” she said. .

Maureen Gruben says her public art installation celebrates sledding as an integral part of Inuvialuit life for generations. (Shane Parent/The Bentway)

She says she believes people in southern Canada know the Eastern Arctic best, and that Gruben’s work in such a busy public space is important.

“Inuvialuit culture is beautiful and distinct. So it’s great that people kind of understand that there’s a diversity of cultures in the north.

Kordoski says this installation is a big step forward for Gruben as an artist, especially an installation based in a remote community.

“She has worked in urban galleries before, but it’s a very large part of the public who is going to have access to the work, I think in a very significant way.”

Some of the photos and poetry created by Maureen Gruben for Annivik, which are part of her installation on The Bentway in Toronto until February 21. (Shane Parent/The Bentway)

Gruben says she never really imagined her work going to a busy public space in Toronto, “it just sort of followed its own trajectory.”

While she’s happy to see her work getting this exposure, Gruben says she’s just doing what she does, making her art.

“To me, it’s educational and it raises awareness about the Arctic. It’s not about me…I think raising awareness in the general public is what’s important,” she said.

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